Since I began to drop the pail in the well of my memories, I ve had no rest, no slack for that rope Whoosh fell the bucket and up came salty recollections Memory is a monstrous beast, biting forcing us to remember things better forgotten Satan wants him to remember all the ugly things, death pushes the black, vast emptiness of forgetting as they play with Jacob Jacob, poet, son of an Egyptian whore, a gay Arab man devastated by the AIDS epidemic later in life Surrounded by saints, from Cairo to San Francisco some of the story breaks your heart Me, through and through, from skin to soul, I am sullied and soiled With tremendous loss, Jacob can no longer write, a wordless poet is madman I stopped writing for a while after you died, my inkpot dried, not just my tears Everything that has happened has brought him to this devastation, this crossroads Embrace Satan, or Death the 14 saints Is memory concrete Can we trust it Is forgetting healthier, is remembering the heart of every moment of our lives This is a unique journey, I can t think of another book I have read about a gay Arab Is being the only one left a punishment, it certainly seems at times to be a curse to lose so many, to be stranded with punishing memories while watching so many die from a brutal illness There were terrible memories, abuses, the whorehouse upbringing was at times a stone sinking my heart particularly his mother s hopes and devastation There is a war with his mind, with loss, grief, his own country, his desires and urges It is funny and cruel, confusing, distracting, everything a life is made of.This is an original novel, I absolutely devoured An Unnecessary Woman Alameddine writes like no other, the characters in this particular story are incredibly difficult for just any author to tackle The memories of his experience in the Christian boarding school was brutal for me to read, not all writers can take you into the sludge of someone s most horrible moments and drown you with the character, leaving the story under your skin for days as The Angel of History is beneath mine.As with An Unnecessary Woman, the reader plunges into a life foreign from their own and yet can t help but find connections This is a vastly different world from my own, and yet it isn t, because at heart gay, straight, ill, healthy, american, Arab in the end recollection is cruel and kind to us all.Hashing over your past is a bit like fighting with Satan and Death We are all sullied and pure depending on what we remember of the moments in a life.Publication Date October 4, 2016 Grove Atlantic, Atlantic Monthly Press feel free to visit my blog How would I feel if I had watched my partner suffer from a cruel, incurable disease How long would it take me to get back to normal Would I ever stop grieving her, my love, my wife Would I lose my mind Would I seek admission to a psychiatric hospital to find peace When I read about Rabih Alameddin s The Angel of History on the National Public Radio website, I knew that I had to read this book It sounded so unusual, so poetic I found that to be the case, but unfortunately, I wasn t as enad with the book as I d hoped to be.Jacob pronounced Ya qub in his native Yemen and reduced to Jake in the US to his dismay is a poet who works in a law office As he sits in the waiting room of a psychiatric clinic, we are privy to his thoughts, his mental rants, his grief, and his longing.This is not an ordinary novel I wished I could see it performed on stage Seeing the interviews between Satan and Death brought to life would have been amazing because reading them often amused me to the point of laughing out loud On page 5, Satan refers to St Francis of Assisi saying, I loathe that narcissistic nincompoop of a saint Death agrees, calling him, Holier than thou, PETA idolizing numnuts Initially, their conversations reminded me a bit of Screwtape and Wormwood in C.S Lewis sThe Screwtape Letters Alameddine s characters are acerbic, irreverent, witty, and painfully honest at times Jacob s 14 Holy Helpers make appearances during the interviews, and we meet his cat, Behemoth, Satan s cat Jacob struggles to remember his long dead partner, who died of AIDS He also struggles to forget His tortured mind drifts in and out to his childhood days His teenage mother was a prostitute Jacob himself was bullied by peers and abused by nuns who taught him As a gay man, he was passive and craved emotional intimacy while tolerating a lot of emotional abuse Jacob recalls many incidents of sexual encounters as a boy and as a man than I cared to read For a man so vulnerable, he is unguarded in the way he bares his past But he is obviously tormented by his demons Imagine losing not only your lover, but also losing so many of your friends to AIDS within a six month period Who is left to lean on, to confide in This gay, dark skinned Arab never an easy identity, especially not at the height of the AIDS epidemic a man who had been through so much, now battles the monsters in his own head But, as Satan says, Sanity is overrated There is much to contemplate about this book Can we control our memories Can we choose what to remember and what to forget Despite the patches of humor and the creative storytelling approach, I found this an extremely challenging read About halfway through, I started to skim because I found the pace and format confusing, and eventually, Jacob s journal ravings became too much to bear The author acknowledges friends, family, and readers who helped in the creation of this book, but I suspect that he draws from his own experience as well At one point, Jacob calls himself grumpy In an interview with Lambda Literary, the author says, Anyway I am no longer gay I ve transcended that I m creating a new sexual and political identity I m grumpy It s post post post gay The Grumpy Cat that s my mascot I read many five star reviews for The Angel of History, and while I admire the book s themes and symbols, its suffering and its humor, I found the style much too unsettling for my taste Rabih Alameddine is a wonderful writer, and I regret that I could not engage with this novel.2.5 stars 3.5 This one was such a hard one to rate for me I really enjoyed An Unnecessary Woman , but at times, this one seemed a little cheesy with the devil death angel dialogue, but at other times it was very poetic, sad and everything I look for in a highly emotional book I found some passages that made me want to read them over and over Alameddine s creativity with words and structure put this closer to a 4 than a 3, but I can t make myself push it over the edge any than I ve done so.If you re a fan of his work, please check this one out for the prose alone Underneath all the symbolism, there is a story full of sorrow, loneliness and misery that will make anyone FEEL so much pain written by the main character narrator as it pours out of him.I received this from NetGalley for an honest review Look for this on your bookshelves in October of this year Alameddine is a rattler of cages, an irreverent, provacative, sarcastic, funny rattler of cages If you are a reader with a free rein to explore all the books, the world around you and wish to stray into the land where drones roam, where poets cry, a land of delicious conversations, then you must of course read this.Will the poet decide to live again, yes with the loss, the pain, the memories and with the Holy Helpers and the ghosts of his friends and lovers helping him or will he choose to forget walk along the way of the pills, bringers of cloudy memory Is Alameddine taking a last dig at our Western world, a world which tends to forget it s past in a miasma of can do s , buzz words, righteous deeds How can we know the way forward without taking with us from whence we came Makes for lost people.I was extremely touched by two of the short stories included in this narrative, The Drone and The Cage in the Penthouse They made me smile, they made me sad, they made me angry and they showed me a world that I do not want to claim as my own.Although fantastical Alameddine s writing is very firmly grounded in our world Not the world that we like to imagine but the real one The one where there is war, injustice, betrayal, politicians etc, need I say So I was reading, enjoying, smiling, getting angry and nodding at the same time because yes I had had these thoughts while that happened to me or when I read about that happening there So if you need escapist literature this is not the book that you are looking for An immediate 5 star rating with no need to think further about the rating.Wayne Corbitt Alameddine said that this story was partly hishttps theonenessofblackness.org so http www.sfgate.com performance artA most worthy 29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winner.read with Lena in Lena s review there is a link to an excellent interview with the authorFits into slot 29 my reading challenge A book with an unreliable narrator because Ya qub like each and everyone of us is unable to really see himself in all his glory. 29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winner Gay Fiction I decided not to write a review for this book Not because I don t have thoughts to share Rabih Alameddine said in one of his interviews, he wrote The Angel of History to provoke When I said I wrote The Angel of History to provoke, I meant that I wished to elicit feelings that readers did not expect, not necessarily by using shock or surprise I wanted to write a book that broke the fourth wall by playing with feelings, by switching paradigms, by rattling cages. Well, I can say now, with his new novel, the author achieved what he intended to do.I am not sure I ve ever read something like that before a prose that can be read as a poem, because it is written in such a beautiful and lyrical way Though the most amazing thing about this book, along with the writing style is how the author talking about such serious topics like war, religion, politics, hate, love, AIDS, death, grieving, forgetting not just made me cry, but he also made me laugh Believe or not, this book is also funny I always admired this skill by writers.The Angel of History is insanely brilliant and Rabih Alameddine s writing is provokingly ingenious Even if I don t fit into his idea of a perfect reader for his books I m going to read everything he wrote or will write Interview with the author This is a near perfect follow up to Alameddine s first book the mesmerizing, surreal and haunting Kool Aids The Art of War probably the best AIDS novel I ve ever read The story here is intimate and focused a gay poet raised in the Middle East living in San Francisco post AIDS epidemic who is the sole survivor of his gay social circle but mapped onto a structure that is grand and epic Satan and Death battle for the poet s life, with cameos by 14 Saints who have protected the poet over the course of his life Alameddine s focus is memory and its cost What price do you pay to remember or to forget How much is too much to pay These eternal questions are deftly explored within an innovative structure which allows him to have fun while once again experimenting with narrative form Fairly graphic gay sex scenes abound and hot ones at that , which is refreshing for a recent National Book Awards finalist I wonder how many fans of An Unnecessary Woman will follow him on his journey here My only quibble with the book is that sometimes his innovative structure gets away from him, leaving me confused with what exactly was going on But nothing a second and third read shouldn t take care of Overall, a completely necessary tale of an AIDS survivor that feels both modern and period at the same time In other words timeless just like Alameddine. The Angel of History is about remembering This much is clear from the very beginning The angel of choice, we re reminded even by itself at some point, is Satan He wants Ya qub or Jacob in his immigrant, gay SF life to remember all the horrible things he has tried hard to forget so he can keep wallowing in self pity and depression A tug of war, thus, ensues between father Satan and son Death Death, for his part, wants Jacob to finally give up, surrender, resign to forget in his welcoming arms, as it seems though remembering is difficult, forgetting entirely is impossible.The story is told in different narrative threads that weave in and out a web of truths and paths that connect invisible, forgotten dots as they are revealed, if you will Satan holds court with Death and fourteen saints who have, at one time or another, helped Ya qub, slowly revealing things Ya qub is not willing to remember, lies he tells himself, untruths he has precariously built to cover up the past The testimonies of the saints as witness to Ya qub s life cause him to remember, or erode his ability to keep forgetting In a way, the novel is about witnessing, too as Alameddine mentions in an interview that when there is nothing one can do, one can witness While Satan holds court in Jacob s apartment, Jacob has gone to the clinic to commit himself, all the while talking to his long dead lover and trying to shut out Satan s voice It is in these conversations with his lover, often interrupted by Satan, Jacob remembers and recounts all that has led him here As a poet who can no longer write poetry, Jacob has started dabbling in prose, attempting short, allegorical stories, and these stories along with sections from Jacob s notes make up the third and fourth, if we re counting narrative.At the end of the novel, Alameddine indicates that the life and work of playwright, poet and performance artist Wayne Corbitt 1952 1997 , who lived in SF and died of AIDS, were a big part of this book Some of Corbitt s poetry that I gleaned after reading the book certainly aligns well with the novel, though it would be a huge injustice to say this story is about one person Jacob is so many things, he is torn into a billion pieces trying to figure out who he is and who he is not and how to live with who he is That he is an Arab, a Muslim who grew up in a brothel and was schooled in a Christian boarding school, a gay man who desires to be dominatedall make Jacob universal in his globe trotting, immigrant, dark skin Yet, there is a particular time and place for Jacob s sufferings the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1980 s San Francisco, the Arab revolution that started so hopeful, but descended into a tragic disaster, the war s against the other in the Middle East, fought by remote controlled machines And so Alameddine builds a whole world out of the ruins of this one we live in.The short stories are great interludes that break the expected ranting Jacob can be prone to in his state of mind The story of the drone and boy who fall in love is exceptional, all the way from its xenophobic, hateful dialog to the homoerotic machine on flesh fantasy The acerbic cynicism throughout the short stories, Satan s interviews, and Jacob s conversations with Satan are lulled briefly and frequently by the deeply sad, emotional passages where Jacob repeatedly recounts all that he has lost These lost things are like the fourteen saints he must take inventory of They are who he is, yet remembering them crushes him under the weight of his guilt and loneliness.The Angel of History is a masterpiece it is expansive and implosive It hides layer after layer of history, beauty, and grief It can be savored dangerously and lives under the skin for a long time after.Thanks to Grove Atlantic for another fantastic novel, and to NetGalley for the digital copy. As brilliant and complicated as The Hakawati, and with the very best of Alameddine s signature brand of delightfully perverse humor, this is a book I ll be recommending to anyone and everyone I know who loves to read Alameddine s imagination is limitless, which shows through the leaps between Jacob s memory and the present as he reveals his history with the help of a host of saints interrogated by Satan and Death. This novel contains so much naked yearning, sadness, despair, and exhausted hilarity poking fun at man s powerlessness in the hands of Satan and Death accompanied by Angels that we could be forgiven for imagining it a memoir Alameddine has given us something rich upon which to sup, slowly, for there is much to assimilate A poor Arab son of a whore literally, as it turns out is intellectually realized by nuns and priests in Beirut, schooling paid for by an absent father The boy and his schoolmates discover his gayness early, and the rest of his life is nary a denial, only acceptance, and once he found his circle, a verbally rich and figuratively celebratory consummation Consumption is the other half of the story, the harvesting of lives, the dropping away of the circle Alameddine does not shrink from the most revealing descriptions of life, love, and death in the life of a little brown gay man, just giving us pieces sometimes, as though he can t remember clearly He probably can t, which is how we get the feeling that this is something remembered rather than merely invented This is not an easy read, there is so much thoughtful erudition here Our eyes take in than our brains can process References to earlier works are everywhere apparent, some boldly proclaimed Mikhail Bulgakov, Goethe, the Bible, the Quran others we see faint outlines of in the swirl of colors and language that comprise invention, memory, and forgetting This is a novel unlike any other, for that little brown gay Arab has given us something we have not seen before, all beauty and crescendo and wit and the most unbearable sense of loss This is a revealing, naked novel that expresses a longing for acceptance, despair of a kindly world, and a stunning reversal that hoarse, defiant shout, drenched in a kind of mad joy, into the void.The novel opens with Satan having a conversation with Death Shortly we learn that the man they came to discuss, Jacob, has signed himself into a mental hospital to check his despair The man, the little brown gay Arab, had lost many friends to AIDS in the scourge He wants both to forget and to remember It is not just his life he must remember, but all of it All of his history, starting with his Yemeni blood Satan tells us forgetting is as integral to memory as death is to life It is not immediately obvious why we need to know this, and we are not sure we understand it anyway We will forget it, and remember it again and again Yemen is one of my favorite places, said Death That nation has refreshed and rejuvenated me for centuries Love between partners is a momentous thing, not easily found and not easily lost It lasts forever, some believe, or its vestiges linger forever It leaves a mark One is not supposed to lose one s partner to death in mid life It is cruel It is unnatural This is the place where Jacob finds himself, struggling through a life filled with losses since childhood Now in adulthood, he should be expert at it And there is some resilience there that we poke and prod with interest How will Jacob respond to his challenges As it was in the beginning, said Satan, lying on my bed, so shall it be in the end, so shall it be first, last, midst, and without end, basically you re screwed, Jacob, you know, the supremacy of Western civilization is based entirely on the ability to kill people from a distance.You can never win, Jacob Death, on the other hand, promises peace, lethe, forgetfulness, and silence Peace on demand, instant gratification Which will our confused and suffering Jacob choose His answer is foreshadowed throughout the novel and has something to do with his covering angels Despair is normal, despite Jacob s need for a psych ward Despair is what we get, sometimes Forgetting and remembering you can t have one without the other One early memory is Jacob envying his older cousin, a schoolgirl who faced life silently, in a beige school uniform Jacob tells us My Halloween costume that year was a headscarf with two pink pigtails sprouting out of it An interview with Rabih Alameddine gives some notion of his carefully hidden depths This link has the conversation recorded in a noisy cafe I prefer it, though there is also a written transcript It is a messy, imperfect thing, this interview, but Alameddine is just so irrepressibly himself. Following The Critical And Commercial Success Of An Unnecessary Woman, Alameddine Delivers A Spectacular Portrait Of A Man And An Era Of Profound Political And Social UpheavalSet Over The Course Of One Night In The Waiting Room Of A Psych Clinic, The Angel Of History Follows Yemeni Born Poet Jacob As He Revisits The Events Of His Life, From His Maternal Upbringing In An Egyptian Whorehouse To His Adolescence Under The Aegis Of His Wealthy Father And His Life As A Gay Arab Man In San Francisco At The Height Of AIDS Hovered Over By The Presence Of Alluring, Sassy Satan Who Taunts Jacob To Remember His Painful Past And Dour, Frigid Death Who Urges Him To Forget And Give Up On Life, Jacob Is Also Attended To By Saints Set In Cairo And Beirut Sana A, Stockholm, And San Francisco Alameddine Gives Us A Charged Philosophical Portrait Of A Brilliant Mind In Crisis This Is A Profound, Philosophical And Hilariously Winning Story Of The War Between Memory And Oblivion We Wrestle With Every Day Of Our Lives
Rabih Alameddine Arabic was born in Amman, Jordan to Lebanese parents, and grew up in Kuwait and Lebanon He was educated in England and America, and has an engineering degree from UCLA and an MBA from the University of San Francisco.
- 294 pages
- The Angel of History
- Rabih Alameddine
- 19 May 2018 Rabih Alameddine